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Q&A: What to know about the coronavirus crisis in the Mahoning Valley

You probably have a lot of questions about the coronavirus pandemic and how it’s impacting the Mahoning Valley. We’re trying to answer as many as possible.
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social-distancing-sign
Social distancing instructions at a store. (Photo by Julie Westfall)

You probably have a lot of questions about the coronavirus pandemic and how it’s impacting the Mahoning Valley and your life here. We’re trying to answer as many as possible. Let us know what other questions you have in the comments or by emailing news@mahoningatters.com. We’ll be updating this with more answers as the outbreak unfolds.

How many confirmed cases and deaths are there in the Valley and in Ohio?

Right now, there are 804 confirmed cases in Mahoning County; 305 in Trumbull; and 247 in Columbiana.

About 81 people have died of COVID-19 in Mahoning County, one of the highest per capita death rates in the state. In Trumbull County, 30 people have died. There have been 24 confirmed deaths in Columbiana. 

Statewide, officials in Ohio have confirmed positive tests in more than 16,601 people. Of the confirmed positives, over 3,421 have been hospitalized.

Statewide, there have been 856 confirmed deaths, along with another 81 “probable deaths."

Officials believe many more people in the area and the state already have or have already had the virus, so the confirmed numbers likely do not reflect the extent of spread or the true number of people who have it because testing is still not widespread.

Gov. Mike DeWine and health officials once projected a peak of 10,000 confirmed cases a day by mid-May, but that peak was later projected for April 19 at 1,600 cases a day due to adherence to strick social-distancing guidelines. Ohio reached that date with just 1,350 new confirmed cases in a day and 310 probably cases, bringing the number to 1,607 on the projected peak day.

Why are confirmed cases and deaths so high in Mahoning County? 

The Mahoning Valley area's cases have been particularly troubling.

Of the county's 81 deaths, about half were reported at county long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes.

Can I get tested for coronavirus?

If you are feeling healthy or only a little sick, aren't in the hospital and aren't a health care worker, getting tested for COVID-19 may be tricky. 

Local and state leaders have complained that there are very few tests available locally, consistent with a big national shortage in tests.

Some mobile testing has been implemented on a limited basis, but people must pass a pre-screening to get tested and officials said they are currently focusing testing mostly on health care workers and people who are already hospitalized.

What do I do if I feel sick and suspect coronavirus?

Most people will feel one or more symptoms that are similar to a typical cold or mild flu — fever, headache, dry cough, body aches — and they should stay home and away from other people, Ohio health director Dr. Amy Acton said. If you are in a high-risk group — older than 65 or have an underlying condition or both — you should call your doctor. If you start having trouble breathing or want to see a doctor, Acton said people should call ahead so doctors or hospitals are prepared to safely receive you.

If you want to talk to a medical professional and you have insurance, your coverage may include a telemedicine service that allows you to call in and speak with a doctor or a nurse. Ohio has loosened some regulations on telemedicine to allow it to serve more people during the coronavirus crisis. You can also call the state’s coronavirus hotline at 833-4-ASK-ODH or go to coronavirus.ohio.gov for more information on what to do if you or your family members have symptoms.

What about my elective surgery or medical procedure?

Elective surgeries and procedures had been postponed completely since mid-March in order to create capacity in hospitals and preserve protective equipment like masks for heatlh workers.  DeWine is now allowing elective procedures, including dental and veterinary procedures, to resume on May 1 as long as they don't require patients to stay overnight in a hospital. 

What is being done to slow the spread?

Social distancing and ordering people to stay at home except for essential activities is the principal way Ohio leaders are trying to slow the spread of the virus.

What is the latest stay-at-home order?

Though the first stay-at-home order will expire on May 1, and reopening will happen in phases after that, officials are still encouraging most people to stay home as much as possible and maintain social distancing.

Read the details of how things will change on May 1 and on rolling basis in the first weeks of May.

What is social distancing? 

Acton, describes social distancing as the “Kevin Bacon Rule” – a reference to the movie “Six Degrees of Separation” – keeping a six feet separation between you and other people, especially in public places. At a minimum, Acton recommends at least three feet. She's also encouraging people to think of "social distancing" as simply "physical distancing."

This interactive from the New York Times shows how social distancing helps stem the spread of the disease.

Should I wear a mask? 

Yes. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Ohio officials are now recommending that everyone wear a mask when they are in public doing any essential tasks like exercising or grocery shopping. In order to preserve the dwindling supply of medical-grade masks, those masks should be made of cloth.

Here are some instructions for selecting the right kind of homemade mask or making your own, and other tips about how to use a mask.

As of May 1, all employees of businesses must wear face masks at work with some exceptions.

What is closed and what is open in the Valley?

Though this will change somewhat on May 1, only businesses and organizations deemed essential can currently be open and operating — that includes but is not limited to grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants and bars for takeout and delivery only, religious institutions, gas stations, banks and hardware stores. 

That means barber shops, salons, and tattoo parlors, gyms and movie theaters and most retail stores are closed. Casinos, sports venues, parks and event centers like the Covelli Centre have canceled their schedules at least through March.

All public schools are closed and almost all school events are being canceled.

The Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County is closed. 

And the list goes on, and on and on. See our full list of closures, postponements and restrictions.

What are churches and other places of worship doing?

Most religious institutions have canceled in-person worship and have moved it online or established other creative ways to worship. DeWine has not barred houses of worship from meeting, citing First Amendment protections, but he has said they should not be doing it. 

Though religious gatherings are excluded from DeWine’s order banning large gatherings, the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown has suspended public Mass and most churches across the Valley have canceled their in-person services.

The Youngstown Area Jewish Federation has canceled or postponed most of its events, too. 

Some religious institutions are offering streaming services, so check with yours to see if that's available. 

Let us know how your place of worship is handling its gatherings by emailing news@mahoningmatters.com.

What if I have an essential job?

Now that even some non-essential workers will be allowed to return to work, your employer is required to follow social distancing guidelines like keeping people six feet apart and mandating frequent hand washing. The list of "essential" businesses is here in our story about the order

What's going on with school and day care?

Schools in Ohio are closed at least until the fall.

Day care is a little different. Day cares can be open but must operate as "pandemic centers" with a limit of six children and one teacher per room, along with additional new regulations. DeWine said parents who need day care services can apply online through the Department of Job and Family Services.

How can I and my children get food during this time?

We are working to consistently update this list of businesses and services that are open to the public right now, including local food pantries. We also have listed the Valley restaurants that are open for carryout and delivery. Several area schools are providing "grab and go" lunches for students, you can find a list of those here. If you have updates for any of these lists, please let us know at news@mahoningmatters.com. 

How long will all this last?

“For a while,” said Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who has taken an aggressive public policy approach to the outbreak. “This is not a sprint.” 

Though some reopening is starting to happen, DeWine has emphasized only that this will be a long haul and said true "normality" will not return until there is a vaccine, which will take at least a year and probably longer. Acton has said we are all likely to be asked to wear masks for at least a year.

When he closed restaurants and bars for dine-in service, he said it was an indefinite order.

“So we’re going to be doing this for a while,” he said.

What other questions do you have about the coronavirus outbreak? Let us know what other questions you have in the comments or by emailing news@mahoningatters.com. We’ll be updating this with more answers as the outbreak unfolds.




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